As a counterargument to the dominant Keynesian economic theories, monetarism emerged as a school of economic theory in the late 20th century. Monetarism, supported by prominent economists such as Milton Friedman, emphasizes the importance of monetary policy and its influence on economic growth, inflation, and overall stability.

Origins and Historical Context

The origins of monetarism can be traced to the early 20th century works of Irving Fisher and his Quantity Theory of Money. However, monetarism did not gain prominence until the middle of the 20th century, primarily due to the work of Milton Friedman. In 1963, Friedman and Anna Schwartz co-authored “A Monetary History of the United States, 1867–1960,” which provided an empirical analysis of the function of money supply in the Great Depression.

The Key Principles of Monetarism
  1. Quantity Theory of Money: At the core of monetarism is the Quantity Theory of Money, which states that changes in a country’s money supply have a direct impact on its price levels. The equation can be expressed in its simplest form as MV = PT, where M represents the money supply, V represents the velocity of money (the rate at which money is exchanged), P represents the general price level, and T represents the volume of economic transactions.
  2. Long-Term Neutrality of Money: According to monetarists, changes in the money supply have nominal effects on nominal variables such as prices and wages, but no real effects on employment or output. Increasing the money supply, according to this principle, does not result in sustainable economic growth; rather, it contributes to inflationary pressures.
  3. The Role of Central Banks: Monetarists advocate for central banks to implement a stable and predictable monetary policy. By regulating the money supply and aiming for a fixed growth rate, central banks can anchor inflation expectations, maintain price stability, and foster an environment conducive to long-term economic expansion.
  4. Velocity of Money: Monetarists emphasize that, assuming incremental changes in monetary policy, the velocity of money is relatively stable over time. This stable velocity enables a direct correlation between variations in the money supply and nominal GDP.
Impact on Economic Policy

The rise of monetarism considerably influenced global economic policy, challenging the Keynesian consensus that dominated the post-war period. As policymakers struggled to control inflation and unemployment, the popularity of monetarism increased.

  1. The Volcker Experiment was one of the most notable applications of monetarist policies in the United States during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Paul Volcker, then-chairman of the Federal Reserve, employed a strict monetarist approach by targeting the money supply growth rate in response to high inflation and sluggish economic growth. This resulted in a period of significant monetary contraction, higher interest rates, and a brief recession, but it was ultimately successful in bringing inflation under control.
  2. The Great Moderation: The monetarist emphasis on stable monetary policy and price stability contributed to the Great Moderation, a period of reduced economic volatility and relatively steady development observed in a number of advanced economies in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Critiques and Limitations

Monetarism has not been devoid of detractors and restrictions. Some contend that the Quantity Theory of Money oversimplifies the dynamics of contemporary economies and ignores the impact of other variables on inflation and economic growth. Critics also note that the assumption of constant velocity does not always hold true, particularly during periods of significant economic disruptions.

In addition, the 2008-2009 global financial crisis prompted many economists to doubt the viability of a monetarist approach to economic policy, as it revealed the limitations of relying solely on controlling the money supply to ensure financial stability.

Monetarism, with its emphasis on the significance of monetary policy and its influence on economic outcomes, was instrumental in influencing the economic policies of a number of nations during the latter half of the 20th century. Despite the fact that some of its fundamental principles have been incorporated into contemporary economic thought, the approach is not without its detractors and limitations. In today’s ever-changing global economy, the efforts of policymakers to attain stable growth, low inflation, and financial stability are guided by a combination of ideas from various economic schools.


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